discoveries accredited to Pythagoras may well have been made by one of the other members of the

brotherhood he founded.

Pythagoras was born in about 572 BC on the Greek island of Samos in the North Aegean Sea, just off the coast

of Asia Minor. Being not far from Thales’ home town of Miletus, it’s possible that Pythagoras studied under the

older man. Like Thales, Pythagoras travelled and is known to have stayed for a time in Egypt. When he returned

to Samos, he found the island occupied by the tyrant Polycrates who had allied himself with the Persian King.

Pythagoras fled Samos and moved to the Greek settlement of Crotona in southern Italy.

At Crotona, he founded the famous Pythagorean School. His school was an academy for the study of

mathematics, natural science and philosophy, but it was also a secret brotherhood with its own rites and

observances. The members of the school believed in the pursuit of philosophical and mathematical studies as

the basis for a good moral life. Their philosophy was summed up in their motto ‘All is number’, and is based on

the assumption that all mathematics is constructed around the whole numbers. The symbol of the Pythagoreans

was the star pentagon or pentagram, a five-pointed star formed by drawing the diagonals of a regular pentagon.

Pythagoras is incorrectly accredited with the famous ‘Theorem of Pythagoras’ which says: ‘In any right angled-

triangle, the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides’

The simplest case of Pythagoras’ Theorem is the 3-4-5 triangle where

Although Pythagoras may well have discovered this result independently, it had been known to the Babylonians

for centuries before Pythagoras’ birth. Pythagoras and his followers did, however, contribute significantly to

mathematics, especially geometry and the early theory of numbers. He is also credited with the introduction of

proof into mathematics.

The brotherhood, known as ‘The Pythagoreans’, became so powerful that the local rulers in southern Italy

destroyed their buildings and caused the brotherhood to disperse. One account says that Pythagoras died in

the flames, another that he fled to Metapontum where he later died. Nevertheless the brotherhood continued in

existence for another two hundred years after its founder’s death in around 500 BC.

‘amicable’ numbers. Two numbers are called ‘amicable’ if each of them is equal to the sum of the proper divisors

of the other. (The proper divisors of a number are all the numbers that divide into it except the number itself.)

The simplest example of a pair of amicable numbers is 220 and 284.

The proper divisors of 220 are 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 20, 22, 44, 55 and 110, and 1 + 2 + 4 + 5 + 10 + 11 + 20 + 22

+ 44 + 55 + 110 = 284

The proper divisors of 284 are 1, 2, 4, 71 and 142, and 1 + 2 + 4 + 71 + 142 = 220

The next pair of ‘amicable’ numbers is 17,296 and 18,416 which weren’t discovered until 1636 AD by Pierre de

Fermat.

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